July 2009 Archives

July 24, 2009

The 4 Simple Steps to a Healthy Retirement

Like most Americans, you probably believe that exercise is a good thing for other people. But then, after months of sloth, you look in the mirror, get re-motivated, and reach for your jogging shoes, swimsuit, or the dusty barbells in the corner of the garage. Then, after a few days or weeks of furious activity, you again subside back on the couch.

Stop. Ask yourself this simple question: "What am I trying to accomplish?"

And I believe it's precisely because most people can't come up with an answer beyond a few generalities -- "to get into shape," "to lose a few pounds," "to get my spouse to quit nagging" -- that they don't stick with any exercise program long enough to make a difference. 

But enough pop psychology. The answer to the "What am I trying to accomplish?" question is simple, "To live a long, healthy, and robust life." If this doesn't interest you, quit reading. If it does, here are the four things you need to do.

Stretching. As we age, we shrink, which results in our suffering many types of chronic pain. Five to ten minutes of stretching a day and a one hour of yoga or basic stretching class three times a week will have you standing taller and feeling less joint pain in just a few weeks.

Balance. Often overlooked, most older people lose muscle flexibility in their lower legs, ankles, and feet. And this is true even if you do plenty of walking, bike riding, or other good exercise. Since poor balance leads to bone-crunching falls, this is definitely something to pay attention to. One simple cure is to stand on a Bosu ball or similar exercise ball or disk for a few minutes every day. These are available at all gyms or you can buy one for home use here. The one-footed poses in yoga, including the basic "tree" pose, are also highly effective balance restorers. Check these out at Yoga Journal's website.

Strength training. Becoming frail and experiencing all the accompanying social and physical limitations is simply not necessary. Lifting moderate weights, or using resistance or weight-based exercise equipment for five or ten minutes each day -- or even better, half an hour -- three or four times per week will have you feeling more robust in no time. Check out Wikipedia's strength training section to review the basics.

Cardiovascular health. Fast walking, swimming, jumping rope, bicycling, or, if your knees and hips will take it, jogging are just a few of a number of activities that you'll want to find time for on a regular basis. Because I'm sometimes pressed for time, I often use cross-training or rowing machines where I can combine strength training with an aerobic workout.

Your first big bonus. Many, if not most people over 55 are prone to mild depression. Far better than pills, and almost as good as sex, any reasonably vigorous exercise makes you feel better both while and after you do it. No question, when you are feeling low it's hard to get started, which is why setting exercise dates with friends or attending classes can be a huge help to overcome inertia.

Big bonus #2. Take a look at the older people you know who keep themselves in robust good health. Now compare them to the retirees you know who are sedentary, frail, and depressed. Who do you think wants and gets more sex? And just in case you've given up on sex, I suggest you think again. In my experience, people who take steps to remain sexually active all their lives are a lot happier than those that don't.
July 17, 2009

How to Cut Health Care Spending by 50%

The majority of America's health care dollars are spent on people over 50 -- and most of the medical conditions that suck it up are avoidable. For example, the majority of diabetes cases, 100% of osteoporosis, much of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, colon cancer, alcohol-related illnesses, and depression miseries, are preventable. And, of course, this is only the top of a very long list of expensive diseases that older Americans inflict on themselves. Or put even more bluntly, the fundamental reason health care costs are over the moon is that as a nation we actively conspire to make ourselves sick and then do little about it except bitch about the huge costs we incur to keep our self-damaged little selves alive.

So here is a simple suggestion: Instead of worrying about which insurance company, employer or public agency is going to regulate health care and pay for it going forward, how about making behavior modification to encourage healthy living the number one priority of our national health care plan? Or put another way, to save tens of billions of dollars in health care expenditures, Americans over 40 need to live their lives in a very different way than most do now. At a minimum, a healthy lifestyle would include lots of exercise, good diet, early medical testing, as well as quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake. Failing that, whether we adopt Obama's plan, a single payer system, or copy Slovenia's approach, the whole effort will amount to little more than rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

Too bad America still lacks the leadership and vision to get at the root causes of our largely self-inflicted health care crisis (as after 50 years of foot dragging we have finally done with our increasingly successful efforts to discourage smoking). Surely a national anti-obesity program full of meaningful carrots and sticks designed to change behavior would do more to both help Americans live better and pay less taxes than anything currently before Congress.

But although there is little hope that national policy will fundamentally change for the better anytime soon, as individuals we can and should act now. By dedicating 60-90 minutes a day to exercise, eating sensibly, not smoking, getting needed medical tests, and keeping our intake of alcohol and other recreational drugs to a moderate level, we can, with a little genetic luck, cut our retirement age health care costs to a fraction of what they would otherwise be. And in the process, we can enjoy far healthier, more active, and happier lives.

In my next entries I'll provide a few thoughts on how to develop a personal program designed to help you live a longer, more fulfilling, and far less costly life. This will focus first on how to combine the four big exercise goals -- to increase your aerobic health, maintain a healthy weight, stay strong and robust, and fight depression. Please stay tuned.